Tuesday 30 December 2008

A great site for Italian varieties

Estimates say there are 22,200 grape varieties in the world so Italy has 10% at 2,200. here's a great site for those varieties prepared by Cinzia Forino:


Check it out: it's amazing how many unknown varieties there are in the Veneto and even Toscana

Monday 29 December 2008

The last to know; Slotovino discovers Vilana

Are we the last to have discovered Vilana, the white grape from Crete? Oddbins have been carrying Xerolithia produced from 100% Vilana by Creta Olympias in the Peza area for some time without Slotovino being aware of this tremendous find. The 2006 costs £6.99 (£5.59 case price) and is one of the best value white wines you could expect to buy at the price. Not since we 'discovered' Pecorino, the white variety from Abruzzo has there been such enthusiasm for a 'new' variety.

For the last 7 years there has been enough recognition in the press so why is this beauty still not widely known?

* WEINGUIDE 2006 - FRANKFURT / HESSEN. At the annual journal edition (Rhein-Main geht aus 2006) in the extra supplement "Weinguide 2006" the top Masters of Wine, journalists, restaurateurs & wine experts present & rank the best white wines from indigenous & cosmopolitan grape varieties.
Among them "Xerolithia" appears as the favourite Greek white wine.
* VINO MAGAZINE - BELGIUM (October 2005 Issue) "Vin de Crete" (White - Vilana) participated in an international wine tasting and scored at the top category "Tres Bon".
* JANCIS ROBINSON: In her web site (www.jancisrobinson.com) she selects XEROLITHIA for her column "Wines of the week", and writes: "Here is a real bargain, a white wine with lots of ripe fruit and character..."
* INSIDE OUT (The City Magazine of Athens), December - January 2003: "Best of Class 2002", Nico Manessis writes: "XEROLITHIA, Creta Olympias. Finally, Cretan wine is playing catch up in the qualitative race among modern Greek wines. Vibrant with fruit, it is made from Vilana grapes and has raised many an eyebrow with wine commentators. This re-launched label represents this year's best value for money white wine."
* INSIDE OUT (The City Magazine of Athens), June 2002: "Island Wines", Nico Manessis writes: "Crete. Most stylish 2001 whites emerge from the hugely capitalized Creta-Olympias winery, above Iraklio, including a very modern variety from the Vilana grape, sporting the Nea Ghi label. My preference leans towards the more complete XEROLITHIA with its fresh kumkuat flavor.
* DAILY MIRROR, 25TH of May 2002: "Beer & Wine, Tim Curran's choice": "It’s hard for Greek wines to shake off the image of Retsina, but they have improved greatly over the last decade and Oddbins has the best selection on the High Street. Try XEROLITHIA dry white wine from Crete made from the native Vilana grape. It has crisp, fresh acidity, a slight sparkle, clean-lasting just ripe peach fruitiness-and no pine resin. I'll serve it at this weekend's barbecue, weather permitting."
* OBSERVER, 19TH of May 2002: "Wines of the week, Five wines to enjoy without the oak", by Tim Atkin. "XEROLITHIA, White, Peza. One of an outstanding array of new Greek wines at Oddbins, this richly textured, honeysuckle and peach - scented Cretian white is made from the local Vilana grape. Crisp acidity makes this a great accompaniment to food."
* DAILY EXPRESS: "Great Greek Wines": "Here are a few of my favourites: XEROLITHIA white, has refreshing tastes of zesty limes."
* SUNDAY TIMES, April 2001: "What Wine? - d is for... dolmades": "Stuffed vine leaves with a flavour that needs to be offset by an equally sharp Greek or Cyprus white. XEROLITHIA White, Crete, Greece."
* YORKSHIRE POST, Tony Fox, April 2001: "Don't Be A Wine Wimp, Give Greek Wines A Try": "Try the XEROLITHIA, made from Vilana grapes, for a new taste experience. This is a delicious, dry white, smelling of freshly squeesed lemons, which would accompany all types of seafood."
* DECANTER magazine, September 1999: "Greek Dry Whites", Recommended ***, CRETA NOBILE PEZA 1998, Creta Olympias: "Intense, fruity, perfumed nose. Smokey palate, with a slight orangey tang. Beautifully balanced."

Tuesday 9 December 2008

American diversity after all

There's diversity in America after all. You can offset the miles of Cabernet Sauvignons and Chardonnays in US supermarkets by clicking onto www.AmericanWinery.com who will give you access to "great small producers that you just don't find on retail shelves." The wines come from practically every region and were being offered at 1 cent delivery charge in the USA. Slotovino cannot vouch for the quality of these wines but a few of them are Parker rated and the sheer boldness of some of the choices is worth patronising.

How about a Limberger (Lemberger) aka Blaufraenkisch from Washington or California, a Chambourcin from Pennsylvania or Missouri, a Corvina Amarone from Texas, Carneros Pinot Meunier, North Californian Fiano, Malbec or Counoise ("this wine goes with everything on every occasion") from Washington, a Californian Rose from Alicante Bouschet (a teinturier!)?

And how would we ever have discovered the wonderful Peter Fanucchi of Fanucchi Vineyards who writes of his Trousseau Gris (which he styles "99 Points!") that it "often retains some of it’s natural effervescence-CO2-which also keeps the wine a little fresher & can show more bubbles then most still wines"? He also has a most whimsical Philosophy Statement:

It is as much my deepest hope & prayer that all who taste Fanucchi Vineyards Wines, thoroughly enjoy a wine that treats the senses with something very special adding to your good meal and/or time with your friends, as it is my hope & prayer (& I hope yours, if not a prayer a resolution) that Fanucchi Vineyards' and all wines be enjoyed with the highest regards towards health & safety of EVERYONE, always.

You really can't find that on retail shelves!

Red Blend (341)
Cabernet Sauvignon (296)
Syrah (226)
Chardonnay (206)
Pinot Noir (183)
Zinfandel (173)
Merlot (153)
Fruit Wine (104)
White Blend (91)
Sauvignon Blanc (Fumé Blanc) (68)
Riesling (White Riesling) (63)
Pinot Gris (Pinot Grigio) (51)
Sangiovese (49)
Cabernet Franc (40)
Petite Sirah (39)
Viognier (36)
Red Table Wine (35)
Barbera (28)
Gewürztraminer (27)
White Table Wine (26)
Tempranillo (Valdepeñas) (19)
Grenache (16)
Malbec (14)
Shiraz (Syrah) (12)
Muscat Blanc (Muscat Canelli) (10)
Mead (8)
Nebbiolo (8)
Chenin Blanc (7)
Concord (7)
Dolcetto (7)
Vidal Blanc (7)
Semillon (6)
Alicante Bouschet (6)
Maréchal Foch (6)
Roussanne (6)
Ice Wine (5)
Limberger (Lemberger) (5)
Albariño (Alvarinho) (4)
Catawba (4)
Mourvèdre (Mataro) (4)
Norton (Cynthiana) (4)
Orange Muscat (4)
Petit Verdot (4)
Primitivo (4)
Red & White Blend (3)
Carignane (3)
Chambourcin (3)
Grenache Noir (3)
Muscat (3)
Sauvignon Blanc Musque (3)
Steuben (3)
Agave (2)
Frontenac (2)
Malvasia Bianca (2)
Niagara (2)
Pinot Blanc (2)
Pinotage (2)
Ruby Cabernet (2)
Seyval (Seyval blanc) (2)
Tinto Cão (2)
Touriga (2)
Touriga Nacional (2)
Trousseau Gris (2)
Verdelho (2)
Carmenere (1)
Aglianico (1)
Arneis (1)
Blanc Du Bois (1)
Cayuga White (1)
Charbono (1)
Chardonel (1)
Colombard (French Colombard) (1)
Conquistador (1)
Corvina (1)
Counoise (1)
Cynthiana (Norton) (1)
De Chaunac (1)
Dornfelder (1)
Edelweiss (1)
Fiano (1)
Grenache Gris (1)
Kerner (1)
Léon Millot (1)
Marsanne (1)
Melon de Bourgogne (Melon) (1)
Muscat Hamburg (Black Muscat) (1)
Müller-Thurgau (1)
Noble (1)
Pinot Meunier (1)
Siegfried (1)
Souzão (1)
Tannat (1)
Traminette (1)
Vignoles (1)

Monday 1 December 2008

L'Ancelotta est arivee

Thanks to Slotovino's ever increasing roaming scout force, Brazilian Ancelotta was first of all tested in Brazil and subsequently rushed to headquarters in London for tasting on November 16th.

Initial reports were not encouraging;

Hmn. Well, we 'enjoyed' a bottle of Identidade 2006 Ancelotta last night over rather too much red meat in our local churrascaria..We found it to be gutsy, and tannic, with lots of fruit but also a slightly bitter aftertaste that led us to wonder if it could be off. Very dark colour, and lots of 'legs'... Pretty heavy head this morning...

so a Reserva was purchased; Don Laurindo 2005 Vale dos Vinhedos - Serra Gaucha - Brasil 13%. This turned out to be a perfectly pleasant rustic wine, dark in colour and no bitter aftertaste. However, only mildly resembling the Italian Ancelotta we has tasted 'sfuso' in Venice (see 'The Reds' below). It may be, as so often happened that an inferior clone was imported originally. If that is the impression over all Brazilian Ancelottas it will be a pity.

Tuesday 25 November 2008


Returning from business in Vienna, we took a late flight from Budapest in order to schlep some otherwise unobtainable Hungarian wines back to Slotovino's base in London. After reading Alex Lidell's 'The Wines of Hungary' interest in local grape varieties was high. Since publication (in 2003) almost everything has changed. Our plan to have lunch in the cellars of the Hilton Hotel in Buda and then visit the Magyar Borak Haza (House of Hungarian Wine) opposite came to nought. The cellars closed a year or two ago and there was hardly any choice of Hungarian wines by the hugely overpriced glass at the lobby bar. Worse; the House of Hungarian Wine closed this summer after a fire.

Nonetheless, the kind Hilton doorman directed us to the Kiraly Borhaz (Royal Tavern) a couple of hundred metres down the hill. There we found a beautiful new underground wine shop, tasting rooms and museum in what looked like the palace dungeons. There is a fee for entry but having lost our way in the (not very interesting) museum we concentrated on tasting and buying.

The most helpful and knowledgeable Petra helped us to choose 10 wines for tasting and even threw an extra one in for free. Top of our list were white varieties Juhfark, Ezerjo, Harslevelu, Leanyka, Kiralyleanyka and Czerszegi Fuszeres and reds including Kadarka, Kekoporto (Blauer Portugieser), Kekfrankos (Blaufraenkisch) and Blauburger. Not all were available but those that were (plus a pinot noir which Petra insisted we tasted) helped enormously, together with the invaluable advice and comprehensive knowledge of Mr. Illes Molnar in the wine shop in selecting the following 9 bottles (there are currently 306 Hungarian Forints to the Pound and 261 to the Euro);

Harslevelu (Tornai) 12.5% (HUF 3,430)
Harslevelu (Tornai) 13% (1,430)
Furmint (Tornai) 12% (1,320)
Leanyka (Toth Ferenc) 13%
Cserszegi Fuszeres (Gelbmann Pince) 10.6% (750)
Keknyelu and Olaszrizling (Badacsonyi Tomaj Cuvee) 12.5% (2,090)
and the evocatively named Juhfark by Pantlika at 12.5% (1,380)

Kadarka (Duzsi Tamas) 12.5% (2,890)

Cabernet Franc - just for a laugh - (Tamas & Zsolt Gere, Villanyi) 13% (4,470)

Petra had nice stories about two of these varieties. Juhfark is beneficial to women wanting a male child: Empress Maria Theresa needed a male heir (after bearing was it 5 girls?) and so drank Juhfark. The result was the enlightened Emperor Joseph II, friend of Haydn, Mozart, lamented by Beethoven etc. The other fable was concerning the derivation of the name Kekfrankos (Blue Franc). This is supposed to have originated when Napoleon's troops wanted to buy wine on their way through Hungary. The only Hungarian they learned was Kekfrankos signifying the 5 Franc note which was blue. If true, the same must have happened in Austria with Blaufraenkisch....it is pretty unlikely the French soldiers even bothered to pay for their wine but there is a connection with Napoleon: he admired the port-like Kekfrankos of Sopron. He seems to have admired many wines on his 'travels'. St. Peray is another.

We were hoping to get some real finds from the duty free shop at Ferihegy Airport but Terminal 1 is very much poorer than T2. Nonetheless among the hugely overpriced and disturbingly alcoholic cuvees from Villanyi and Eger (typically 14.7%) we found two Egri Bikavers, one by Tibor Gal for Gundel for 1,932 at 13% and the other by Thummerer at 2,772 (13.5%) as well as a Bock Kekfrankos from Villany (13%) at 2,380.

That made 12 bottles - a record Schlep!

There ia slo an excellent chain of wine shops all over Hungary called Bortarsasag. We cased the Bazilika branch in central Pest. They have a great selection but are significantly and consistantly more expensive than Kiraly Borhaz.

We will taste the Hungarian booty over the next months and report any 'finds'. The Hungarian wine scene is developing at a tremendous rate. We hope they don't abandon their priceless heritage of native varieties and tradition (as in so much of Eastern Europe and the ancient winegrowing lands of Greece and Georgia) of low alcohol wines. Prominent producers include Bock, Gere, Thummerer, Toth and Weninger.

In praise of Astor Wines of New York


It has taken many years but finally Slotovino has discovered the wine Mecca of new York. Astor Wines and Spirits is at 399 Lafayette St at East 4th and has as big a range and as knowledgeable a staff as we have found anywhere. Honcho 'David' is an amateur of rare grape varieties and steered us to a Pelaverga from Piemonte; a grape we had never heard of. We also bought the Pineau d'Aunis 'Les Mortiers' which we had admired at Grammercy Tavern (whose wine list is unparalleled) a Piedirosso from the Campi Flegrei (Campania) and a Menu Pineau (Arbois)/Sauvignon Blanc blend from the Loire. There are many other fascinating wines. Check out their excellent website.

Now that Vintage New York have closed their shop in the Village and only have Broadway and 93rd St in NYC (they have otherwise an outlet at the Rivendell Winery in New Paltz in the Hudson valley), Astor is one of the only places downtown we know of where you can buy New York wines.

Saturday 25 October 2008

A visit to Colares

Taking advantage of an important concert in Lisbon to attend, we at Slotovino took an early flight, hired a car with Satnav and managed to get to Colares by way of an unintended but wonderfully serendipidous diversion through the Parque Natural Sintra Cascais. At mid-morning the weather was balmy with a sea mist still clinging to the land. The vegetation was almost Carribean; certainly Atlantic and not at all Mediterranian.

Descending to Colares the cellars of the Adega Regional and across the road, the only slightly less imposing cellars of Visconde de Salreu came instantly into view. In the village was evidence of other historic Colares producers such as Tavares & Rodrigues now looking unused and unloved.

An appointment had been made with Francisco Figueiredo at the Adega Regional where a function was in full swing in the vast and imppressive 'chaix'. Francisco turned out to be immensely well qualified and knowledgeable - both an Agronomist and Oenologist - he had been brought up in Colares and has come to personify the future of the Appellation which as he mentioned was about to celebrate its 100th anniversary - making it the oldest in Portugal.

He succinctly recounted the history from the golden years when what is now a string of seaside resorts was covered in vines and had been known as the Bordeaux of Portugal. Production during the years of the Phylloxera epidemic and up to the 1930s had topped 1 million hectolitres at the Adega Regional alone presumably because the Ramisco vine of Colares were the only ones not to be affecetd due to their being planted in Sand which rendered them immune to the disease. Production is now only 70,000 hectolitres thanks to the fact that the area is now devoted to the developement as a seaside resort.

Asked whether the Ramisco grape was difficult to grow, Francisco said it was this was not the case. It is a late ripening variety and that was why it was buried in sand - to give heat to the grapes at night. He explained that it was actually clay in which the vines were planted and only after 2 or 3 years when they had grown high enough were the stems covered in sand. In fact only half the production of Ramisco in Colares was grown in this way: the other half, away from the beaches was simply grown in clay.

Being young and forward looking, Francisco spoke a lot about the future about which he was not at all pessimistic. While realistic about the situation he spoke of new plantings and research. One of the biggest problems surprisingly enough was the difficulty of making suitable cuttings. Asked if Ramisco was grown anywhere else in Portugal or the wider world he said he had heard of a nursery in the Alentejo selling Ramisco vines so he imagined there may be a few plantings there, but obviously nothing of any consequence.

He and his colleagues decided in the late 1990s after an enforced change of name from D'Areia to Arenae to sell the wine in 50cl bottles of a distinctive shape. Colares is already perhaps the most distinctive wine in the world so they might as well sell it in an idiosyncratic way although this hardly makes life easier for wine merchants or restaurants.

Francisco was charmingly at pains to give equal emphasis to white Colares made from Malvasia although this is hardly as interesting a the red wines from the unique Ramisco grape.

Fransico insitsed on driving up to some Ramisco plots so demonstrate the haunting little vineyards where the harvest had just been carried out. These were the most peculiar plots each enclosed by dry stone walls, the vines looking like derelict cages in a zoo with expired reptiles littering the sandy floor. Some tiny apple trees dotted these plots. Francisco said even these were a unique variety. Apparently there are strong winds especially in August against which the vines had to be protected. Other problems came from rabbits and birds...

Leaving Colares, there remained a singular impression unlike any other in wine country.

With the aid of Satnav we made straight for Lisbon and Garrafeira Nacional in Barreira Alta: a temple to Portuguese wine. There we bought on special offer 2 bottles of Colares Chitas Reserva 1968 with 2 bottles of White Colares Conde Salreu 1967 White, 1 bottle of Colares Chitas 1995 and 1 Colares Fundacao Oriente 2004. We had bought another of the latter in Colares for 2 Euros more! The bill came to E.92.50. Not bad.

With 2 bottles of Arenae kindly given by Francisco (one white, one red) this made 9 bottles to put in our check-in luggage for the journey home. All arrives safely apart from 1 bottle of 1967 white which leaked a bit. Opened a day after arrival, this proved not surprisingly to have been oxydised. We look forward to a Colares evening once the wines have settled and an appropriate list of guests have been invited to a tasting.